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Hydropower: Supported By  Everyone?

Hydropower is a renewable source of energy powered by the running or falling of water and provides nearly 16% of global electricity consumption. But this does not leave the 'green energy source' free from controversy. Current debates now question whether hydroelectric power can be categorised as truly renewable and we ask, what are the real ramifications of this type of energy generation?



not polluting (clean energy)

people displacement

durable (long-term and no further investment)

expensive – requires initial investment

safer than nuclear and fossil fuel energy

requires mass infrastructure, changing water levels and flooding areas


Case Study: Brazil

The upcoming Luiz do Tapajós (SLT) project will dam the final unobstructed tributary of the Amazon River and contribute to a third of Brazil’s proposed hydropower expenditure. Brazil’s current president prioritised economic benefit over environmental loss which gave the go ahead for this project. However, not many Brazilian dams (despite the destruction of forest area, habitats and agricultural land), actually provide enough power to deem the flooding justifiable. As over 40 major dams have and are due to prop up along the Amazon, environmental agencies claim that the economic benefits cannot rationalise the possibly devastating consequences for indigenous locals…

Flickr | Rainforest Action NetworkThe Munduruku people would lose their ancestral lands if plans for the proposed 400 square kilometre dam continue. The project will flood precious rainforest amounting to the sizes of London, Paris and Amsterdam collectively! This in turn would disrupt the migratory movements of fish species and the livelihoods of river communities. But the real controversy in this debate is the prioritisation of national economic interest and blatant disregard for the voices of the people. If constructing the second largest dam in Brazil is contested by environmentalists rejecting the 'economics of large dam schemes in remote tropical rainforests', surely their voices equal those from multinational corporations?

Case Study: Ethiopia

At the end of 2016, the prime minister of Ethiopia inaugurated the tallest dam in sub-Saharan Africa. The Gibe III dam on the Omo River is an impressive 800 feet and will harness 'enormous hydropower potential' to make Ethiopia a primary exporter of hydropower. Alas, Africa’s third largest hydroelectric plant was not exempt from environmental criticism. Unfortunately in 2010, the Ethiopian prime minister followed a similar outlook to the Brazilian president – economic development at any environmental cost. But his justification offered a convincing counterargument in this debate. He claimed that environmental critics were neo-colonialists preventing the development of African nations; keeping African nations underdeveloped creates profit, growth and excellent media coverage in western nations. The economic development argument no longer looks like the bad guy when put into this context!

Flickr | Omo River by David StanleyIf the environmental costs of generating hydropower are this destructive, can this energy source really be a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels? Convoluted debates around the continuation of large scale hydropower construction deal with social and environmental issues but are naturally ridden with political agenda. These case studies are taken from newly-industrialising nations that require energy security to increase economic growth. But are the resulting environmental costs a sustainable way to propel countries to greater development indices? Solar power provides electricity and is suited to equatorial countries. Tidal and wave power provide electricity and are readily available to every non-landlocked nation. Wind energy provides electricity and can be harnessed everywhere. What’s your take on this Hydropower debate?

By Anaka Nair - Online Journalism Intern

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